CD REVIEW: Mark Harrison and the Alpha Rays - Plutonium
By Cyrus Rhodes - 10/06/2011 - 11:17 PM EDT
Artist: Mark Harrison and the Alpha Rays
Label: Independent Artist
Genre: Alternative Pop/Rock
Sounds Like: Radiohead, David Bowie, Elliot Smith, Oasis
Technical Grade: 4/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 6/10
Commercial Value: 5/10
Overall Talent Level: 7/10
Songwriting Skills: 8/10
Performance Skill: 6/10
Best Songs: Ride the Horse, Doctor
Weakness: Erratic Sounding Production (Recording, Mixing, Mastering) Dated Sounding Production, Marketability
English singer/songwriter Mark Harrison and his band Alpha Rays release their latest release entitled Plutonium in 2011.
The CD kicks things off with “Ride the Horse” a mesmerizing melody that serves up well placed harmonies, inviting 70’s psychedelic flair and heartfelt vocals by Harrison. Track 2 “Century Kid” shifts gears a bit with driving rock rhythm, hypnotic vocal delivery and thought provoking lyrics. Track 3 “Sultan of Spring” methodically slithers across your ears and peaks and valleys its way through to emotional fruition. It’s quite impressive how well Harrison makes these songs his own, with his infectious vocal timber. In fact his voice is his strong suit by far. As the CD slowly unfolds I can hear many musical influences reminiscent of classic Radiohead, David Bowie, Elliot Smith, Oasis and The Smiths. The CD offers a rich melodic & vocal foundation. I would classify this music as rock, pop with a vintage 70’s psychedelic rock aftertaste. Besides the standard 4 piece delivery you will also notice brief splashes of piano, keyboard and lush vocal harmonies layered everywhere. Harrison’s voice works well within the catalog & is in the vein of Thom Yorke (Radiohead) and David Bowie. I might add Harrison takes some very impressive vocal risks along the way indicating to me a strong and confident vocal ability. From compelling “Doctor” to passionate “Seeker of Steel” and heartfelt “Eyes Like Moons” to striking “Monti Cristo” this CD has something for just about everyone. The CD ends with “Animals” the perfect finale statement for a CD of this caliber.
The overall production quality (recording, mixing, mastering) seems to be somewhat erratic, amateurish and a bit all over the place. From drums that lack serious bottom end, to obscure sounding distorted guitars and drum recordings, to vocal levels that seem extremely disproportional to the music – this CD has all the trademarks of a "basement-band garage" mix job. There are no liner notes inside the CD that would indicate who the engineers were. Bottom Line - It takes skill and engineering savvy to record, mix, and master a musical production to industry standards these days. The impact this will have on its overall marketability cannot be overstated. If this was 1980 this would be a cutting edge musical production, unfortunately its 2011, so the bar is set really high for independent artists like Harrison. Given the talent factor of Harrison and the scope of his songwriting craft and amazing vocal abilities - it’s a bit unfortunate besides being quite unorthodox. If this review seems lopsided it’s merely a reflection to the extremes presented on Plutonium. There is no barcode in the back of the CD indicating to me a retail non-compatibilty. CD cover art looks like it was printed on a home printer and the the CD itself is of the same ilk. I fully realize this is a subjective art form but many of the afortmentioned issues do impact this CD's overall marketability.
In close Alpha Rays featuring Mark Harrison is a compelling musical production from start to finish. Its strong suit – the’ amazing musical flow and incredible vocal presence from Harrison. Trust me when I say his English accent is to die for. The songs are extremely melodic, passionate and powerful. The songs are short and sweet musical experiences, each one possessing a unique personality, flair and signature groove. If I could say anything to Harrison right now – it would be to surround yourself with proven team of industry standard engineers (Mixing, Mastering, and Recording) that can do your music the proper justice. Do this and you will give your audience the musical production they so rightfully deserve.
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